UN: Israel mistreats Palestinian youth in custody

According to UNICEF report, Israel's treatment of Palestinian minors it detains violates international law.

IDF soldiers arrest Palestinian 370 (photo credit: REUTERS/Mohamad Torokman)
IDF soldiers arrest Palestinian 370
(photo credit: REUTERS/Mohamad Torokman)
Israel’s treatment of Palestinian minors in military detention violates international law, in spite of the many steps it has taken in recent years to improve the situation, according to a new report released Wednesday by the United Nations Children’s Fund.
“Each year approximately 700 Palestinian children aged 12 to 17, the great majority of them boys, are arrested, interrogated and detained by Israeli army, police and security agents,” the report said.
It estimated that over 7,000 Palestinian children living in the West Bank, which is under Israeli military rule, had been imprisoned in the last decade, an average of two a day.
“Ill treatment of Palestinian children in the Israeli military detention system appears to be widespread, systematic and institutionalized,” the report said.
Still, it was careful to note that Israel had taken many steps to improve the situation in the last four or five years, including the creation in 2009 of a juvenile military court so that Palestinian minors were no longer tried in adult court.
“It is understood that this is the first and only juvenile military court in operation in the world,” the report said.
In 2011, in Military Order 1676, Israel raised the age by which it treated Palestinians as minors from 16 to 18, according to UNICEF.
The organization in its report, however, noted that teens aged 16 and 17 could still be sentenced as adults.
Order 1676 also mandated that police notify parents of their children’s arrest and inform the minors that they had a right to an attorney, according to UNICEF.
But the order did not set a time frame by which the minors could exercise their legal rights, nor was the order printed in Arabic, UNICEF said.
A separate military order, 1651, mandated that children under the age of 12 could not be arrested or prosecuted in military courts, according to UNICEF.
It further stipulated that minors aged 12 to 13, cannot be sentenced to more than six months in prison, UNICEF said. Order 1651 added that teens aged 14 to 15 could only be imprisoned for a year, unless they committed a crime that carries a jail sentence of over five years, according to UNICEF.
The organization noted, however, that most children were charged with throwing stones, a crime that carries a 10- year prison term.
Those who throw stones at a moving vehicle can serve as long as 20 years, UNICEF said.
This means, according to UNICEF, that teens 14 and older can be imprisoned for an extended period, possibly as long as 10 or 20 years.
UNICEF noted that in many cases Israel has shortened the time by which children can be held without charges from eight to four days. A new mandate, Military Order 1711 that goes into effect in April, stipulates that children under 14 must be brought before a judge with 24 hours and children aged 14 to 18 must be heard by a judge within 48 hours, according to UNICEF.
Still UNICEF took issue with many aspects of Israeli treatment of minor detainees in the military legal system, including the ability of a judge to bypass the above regulations and place a minor in solitary confinement.
UNICEF also opposed the military practice of arresting minors in the middle of the night, questioning them without the presence of an attorney or legal guardian, and physical mistreatment.
“Many children are arrested in the middle of the night, awakened at their homes by heavily armed soldiers,” according to the UNICEF report.
“For some of the children what follows is a chaotic and frightening scene, in which furniture and windows are sometimes broken, accusations and verbal threats are shouted, and family members are forced to stand outside in their nightclothes as the accused child is forcibly removed from the home,” the report said.
It also charged that confessions were obtained from the children through the use of intimidation, threats and physical violence.
“Children are restrained during the interrogation, in some cases to the chair they are sitting on,” the report said.
UNICEF based its findings on more than 400 cases documented since 2009 as well as legal papers, reports by governmental and non-governmental groups and interviews with Palestinian minors and with Israeli and Palestinian officials and lawyers.
The Foreign Ministry issued a statement saying that Israel will “study the conclusions and will work to implement them through ongoing cooperation with UNICEF, whose work we value and respect.”
The statement pointed out that Israel “participated in processing the material that served to draft the report in collaboration with the UNICEF team.”
Foreign Ministry and IDF representatives held working sessions with UNICEF “with the common goal of improving issues” related to the report.
“It is important to note that UNICEF has welcomed improvements over the years in the treatment of Palestinian minors, both in detention and in the legal proceedings in the Israeli military judicial system,” the statement read.
The statement, more conciliatory than usual when it comes to Israeli responses to UN agency reports, said Israel joined the UNICEF board this year and has good working relations and a good level of collaboration with the organizations, which is “appreciated by the international community.”
Qadoura Fares, chairman of the Palestinian Prisoners Club which looks after inmates and their families, praised the report and called for Israel to be held accountable.
A spokeswoman for the Prisons Service said there were currently 307 Palestinian minors in Israeli custody, 108 of whom are serving a prison sentence.
Most of them, 253, are between the ages of 16 to 18 and the rest are under 16.
A senior Israeli officer in the Military Advocate-General’s office said one of the jailed Palestinians, aged 17 at the time of his arrest, had stabbed to death two Jewish settlers and three of their children, including a three-month-old baby, in 2011.
He denied that minors, while in interrogation, were not allowed access to family members or a lawyer. “Very few of the parents take the time to come [to the police station],” he said.
UNICEF said Israel had made some “positive changes” in recent years in its treatment of Palestinian minors, including new hand-tying procedures meant to prevent pain and injury.
It also noted a 2010 military order that requires Israeli police to notify parents about the arrest of their children and to inform minors they have the right to consult a lawyer.
The Israeli officer said the army was considering videotaping interrogations and that a new military order, coming into effect in April, will limit to 48 hours the time a minor can be held prior to appearing before a judge.
Reuters contributed to this report.